Managing the risk of fatigue

This information bulletin was developed to assist persons conducting a business or undertaking (PBCU) and other duty holders manage fatigue in the workplace.

What is fatigue?

Fatigue is more than feeling tired and drowsy. In a work context, fatigue is a state of mental and/or physical exhaustion that reduces a person’s ability to perform work safely and effectively.

It can occur because of prolonged or intense mental or physical activity, sleep loss and/or disruption of the internal body clock.

Signs of fatigue include:

  • tiredness even after sleep
  • reduced hand-eye coordination or slow reflexes
  • short term memory problems and an inability to concentrate
  • blurred vision or impaired visual perception
  • a need for extended sleep during days off work.

Why is fatigue a problem in the workplace?

Fatigue may increase the risk of incidents because of a lack of alertness. Fatigue may result in a slower reaction to signals or situations and affect the ability to make good decisions, particularly when:

  • operating fixed or mobile plant including driving vehicles
  • undertaking critical tasks that require a high level of concentration
  • undertaking night or shift work when a person would ordinarily be sleeping.

How can the risks of fatigue be managed at the workplace?

Measures to manage the risks associated with fatigue will vary from one workplace to the next, depending on the nature of the work, environmental conditions and individual factors.

The risks associated with fatigue can be managed by following a systematic process which involves:

  • identifying the factors which may cause fatigue in the workplace
  • if necessary, assessing the risks of injury from fatigue
  • controlling risks by implementing the most effective control measures reasonably practicable in the circumstances, and
  • reviewing control measures to ensure they are working as planned.

Your responsibility as a PCBU

A PCBU has the primary duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, workers and other persons are not exposed to health and safety risks arising from the business or undertaking. This includes ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable:

  • provision and maintenance of a work environment without risks to health and safety
  • provision and maintenance of safe systems of work, and
  • monitoring the health of workers and the conditions at the workplace for the purpose of preventing illness or injury of workers arising from the conduct of the business or undertaking.

The duty on the PCBU is not removed by a worker’s preference for certain shift patterns for social reasons, their willingness to work extra hours or to come to work when fatigued. The PCBU should adopt risk management strategies to manage the risks of fatigue in these circumstances.

Your responsibility as a worker

Workers have a duty to take reasonable care for their own safety and health and that their acts or omissions don’t adversely affect the health or safety of others. Workers must also comply with any reasonable instruction and cooperate with any reasonable policy or procedure relating to fatigue at the workplace, for example fitness for work policies and policies regarding second jobs.

To reduce the risk of being involved in a work incident caused by fatigue, you should:

  • comply with your organisation’s policies and procedures relating to fatigue
  • understand your sleep, rest and recovery needs and obtain adequate rest and sleep away from work
  • seek medical advice and assistance if you have or are concerned about a health condition that affects your sleep and/or causes fatigue
  • assess your own fitness for work before commencing work
  • monitor your level of alertness and concentration while you are at work
  • look out for signs of fatigue in the people you work with
  • in consultation with your supervisor, take steps to manage fatigue, for example take a break or short nap (night shift), maintain hydration (drink water), do some stretching or physical exercise, adjust the work environment (lighting, temperature)
  • talk to your supervisor or manager if you foresee or experience being impaired by fatigue likely to create a health and safety risk e.g. because of a health condition, excessive work demands or personal circumstances
  • assess your fatigue levels after work and take suitable commuting and accommodation options (e.g. avoiding driving if fatigued).

Additional information

Code of Practice

The Fair Work Ombudsman provides information and advice about workplace rights and obligations including hours of work, breaks and rosters. Please visit the Fair Work Ombudsman website for further information.